Claire Oak, a renowned watercolor artist who studied in New York, Paris and Quebec, will be remembered this month and next during a sale of her artwork and personal collection by the Stockton Art League.
Oak died in October 2013 at age 93. After her nephew retrieved a few sentimental pieces of art, the rest of her large body of work was donated to the League, of which Oak was a member for nearly 40 years.
“Some of her private collection is from back in 1936,” said Maria Flumiani, a board member with the League. “I wish we knew the stories behind all of them.”
In her later years, Oak lived and worked in Stockton, but many of her paintings were done at Lodi Lake and Micke Grove Park. She was a prolific artist, with more than 2,600 pieces of work now sitting in the Stockton gallery.
Oak was born in Quebec, Canada, as one of 10 children. In her early school years, Oak was raised by Catholic nuns, and ran away from school several times. Her father wanted her to become a nurse or a teacher, but she insisted on being an artist, so he sent her to art school in New York.
From L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Quebec to the Art Students’ League in New York, from La Grande Chaumiere in Paris to the San Francisco Art Institute, Claire Oak has studied under some of the finest teachers in the world of art.
But she has also had differing endeavors in her professional life: Art director for a Madison Avenue advertising agency in New York City, with her work appearing in such well-known magazines as The New Yorker, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, McCall’s, and Glamour. In Paris she was published in Le Jardin des Modes and Le Journal des Enfants.
After marrying Alan Oak, the couple moved to Paris. Alan Oak was hired as the public relations officer for the post-World War II Marshall Plan, and was stationed in Paris for five years. Oak spent her time there attending fashion shows and broadcasting reports of the latest styles back to Canada. She also got work drawing illustrations for magazines and every week would visit galleries and museums. Her husband’s career in radio brought the Oaks from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco before they settled in Stockton.
Winner of 25 first-place in national and regional shows, she has also been awarded personal recognition with the Susan B. Anthony Woman of Achievement in Creative Arts Medal.
Never straying far from the world of art, another career saw Claire Oak as owner and operator of The Fashion Illustrator’s Workshop. Then too, after moving with her husband to Los Angeles, she was again a (freelance) artist for May & Co., while also keeping up with her fine arts painting.
About this time, Claire became much-in-demand as a teacher and lecturer. Moving to Stockton, she taught at Bauder College in Sacramento and painting for adults” at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton in a wide variety of media. Oak divided her final years between painting and teaching fine art.
Students in her watercolor class said she would never paint by photographs, preferring to set up an easel outside.
The proceeds of the sale in May and June will benefit the League.
“It was quite a generous donation by her nephew,” said Flumiani. “But there was so much work, we couldn’t do it all in one month.”
Gallery director Dick Massa remembers Oak as an independent woman, who recently bought a new lawnmower for her home and was using it herself.
“She was modest when it came to her art, and reluctant in the face of compliments,” said Massa.